Ishbel’s 2018 in Review

My sweet friend, Deborah Pearson, does a round up email of her year for friends and colleagues. It is so incredibly stuffed with things from her wide-ranging work life and I always love reading it. We had a wee conversation back and forth this year where I marvelled at her productivity, and she said I should compile a list of what I’d done in 2018 and I’d be surprised. And dang it all, she was right! It is in no way the same order or magnitude of Debbie’s globetrotting work, but I was moved to share said list with some reflections from me, so here you go, you lucky people! My 2018 in vaguely chronological order:

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I started the year right in the deep end of The Employment Hellscape, including the Big Nine Days. At the heart of those days were the three community pop ups with PAS in Fife. I was project artist on the six-month engagement, and the pop-ups were a big part of that. You can read about the early part of project here. The pop-ups were exhausting and surprisingly brilliant, involving balloons, community mapping, superheroes and Pixar.



whatsapp image 2019-01-11 at 16.31.03The other aspect of the Big Nine Days, was the first sessions of the Minority Language Training, which I spent the last half of 2017 making. We did our first session at the funders, The Scottish Government, and it was a high stakes day which went well. The team were brilliant, and we spent the whole of that session saying how similar everything was for the three languages – Scots, Gaelic and BSL, so it was nice to feel that connection. Finishing that day I felt more proud of myself than I have in years.


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I made the tricky call to retire Plan as a show after our last event with the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Glenrothes. Touring with the EIBF was such a joy – a great and fun team with lovely audiences and wonderful workshops. I decided that 2018 needed some drastic action to make fearfulbel move on from known knowns to unknown unknowns and make new things. Retiring Plan was an acknowledgement that even an existing show takes creative energy, which I needed for The New Thing.


whatsapp image 2019-01-11 at 16.31.03 (1)By comparison, it was glorious to do Hoolet again in a theatrical setting when we went to Corymeela for Carafest over Easter. Doing it along with the Minority Language Training is a different sort of affair, as you might imagine – we perform in work places, with group discussion and post-its for afters. It was nice to have an audience who were expecting theatre, for a start. Also, spiritally-minded folk interested in the arts and social justice = an audience of Ishbels, so that made it easier. Corymeela is a totally inspiring peace and reconcilliation centre on the north coast of Northern Ireland, in utterly beautiful surroundings, with beautiful buildings and lovely folk. We were spoiled.


whatsapp image 2019-01-11 at 16.31.01I did two projects with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland this year. I again led the Aye Can Summer School, looking at Burns and Scots language more widely, and then was also one of two theatre artists on a week-long summer school (with some sessions through the earlier months) for the launch of the North East Arts Hub. It was such a challenging job – starting with long Sundays of commuting for workshops, and ending with everyone living together in a bunkhouse for a week. But the setting was unreal (North Sea swimming FTW!), I absolutely loved working with Pete Lannon (the other theatre artist), and the kids and the folkie music was glorious.


whatsapp image 2019-01-11 at 16.31.01 (1)I spent a lot of the summer working away on my own, researching a project with no prospect of doing anything. I have slightly tended to put the cart and the horse only one way round when it comes to making work – I have to perform on a certain day so am forced by terror to create so that I’m not standing like a numpty on said day. I am trying to get a practice where I make things and see what happens, rather than waiting for the approbation of funding, invitation or development. I love academic libraries, so it’s worth it just to hang out on the eighth floor and look over Glasgow.


whatsapp image 2019-01-11 at 16.31.00When Debbie challenged me to review my year, one of the things I uncovered was the LADA DIY that I attended in the late summer, which I had filed under ‘does not count’, maybe because no product came from it? Except that I did do some writing, as well as learning and being in the UK’s newest New Town (yay!). DIYs are led by artists for other selected artists. They are practice, research trip and workshop all in one. Every other participant lived in the London area, but I came all the way down from Scotland to Kent. I’m pretty sure everyone thought this was weird, and I was not immune to feeling annoyed at the London-centric nature of so many opportunities and so much stuff (funding for travel expenses was fine from Central London, could not cover from Scotland), but the workshop itself was challenging and enriching and I got a lot from it. I even wrote one of the below about it…


whatsapp image 2019-01-11 at 16.31.04In the autumn I was asked to join the Scots column team at The National, a national print and online newspaper in Scotland. I somehow also filed this under ‘does not count’ (I should look in that drawer and see what else is in there) and so when people asked me at Christmas whether I had done any writing recently I was like, ‘Em, no, not really.’ Even though I’d been doing a monthly column since August. On the right, I’ve sneakily included a picture from my first column of 2019, which I am most proud of. I have relaxed into writing in Scots more. To begin with it felt so laborious and like moving from a nippy wee bicycle to trying to use a shopping trolley with two broomsticks to manoeuvre each paragraph and sentence. So much of Scots reading and writing is about confidence, and so the people of Scotland can read me practicing every month. YOU’RE WELCOME, SCOTLAND. If you want to read them you can see the list here.


whatsapp image 2019-01-11 at 16.31.04 (1)The final thing in Debbie’s email was a wee list of disappointments, professional and personal, and this photo of my much-loved workspace is dedicated to all the work that seems to have gone nowhere in 2018. I was shortlisted for three separate things, all of which I did not get. Plugging away at it is definitely the way to move on, but I’ve started to think about applications as very time and energy consuming invitation to punch me in the face. Other people have ways of dealing with these punches, but for me they hurt, and they make it harder to go again. I comfort myself that I would have cried with joy at being shortlisted, even to be rejected, five years ago, so there is progress in my failure. Except, of course, I have been shortlisted many times for many things and haven’t ‘won’ anything in, well, years. It’s not nothing, and to be honest this year it has felt like the main thing, so there’s that.


whatsapp image 2019-01-11 at 17.36.02And yet I am not unhappy! 2018 included a quite unreasonable number of holidays, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites ticked off, and a transcontinental train journey across America that I have been dreaming of for a decade (pictured). Tommy gave up his job working for The Man and has been so much happier that he spent late winter and all of spring basically just skipping. We run an Airbnb in our spare room as Tommy’s paying job (his main job is an artificial intelligence research project which he is doing on his own at the moment), and had lots of friends to stay so we’ve been able to share our nice house with nice folk and help people out sometimes. We have been involved in the Scottish Green Party again, and I’m on the committee for our sub-branch and ran a good event at our local Asylum Seeker Night Shelter. I have got much, much better at BSL (though my BSL Level 3 exams sadly belong in the disappointing failures paragraph) and I’ve learnt loads of stuff from museums, trips, podcasts, books and the internet. Life is excellent, art is good, 2019 is new and so are we.


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